10 November 2021

朱慶餘 Zu Qingyu: 宮中詞 A Verse on Life Inside the Palace

Here is my latest English rendition of Tang dynasty quatrains on the theme of life in the imperial palace.  The original is clearly a palace plaint 宮怨 but subtly made through the words of a third person who simply describes the situations the 2 ladies concerned are in --- (i) line 2: in a small, splendid side-hall, (ii) line 1: no one comes to their flowering courtyard-garden whose gates are  closed, (iii) lines 3 and 4: wishing to talk about palace affairs but dare not in the presence of the parrot.  I have, in my English rendition, added the words "their plaints" to make plain this poem is a palace plaint.


Zhu Qingyu (early 800’s): A Verse on Life Inside the Palace


1                Quiet, so quiet, the flowering garden, its doors and gates all closed.

2                Two beauties, there stand side by side, in a small, splendid side-hall.

3                Feelingly wishing to fully share --- their plaints of palace affairs,

4                But before the mimicry, chattery parrot, they dare not speak at all.


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發

26 October 2021 (revised 28.10.2021; 1.11.2021; 9.11.2021)

Translated from the original: 朱慶餘: 宮中詞


1       寂寂花時閉院門

2       美人相並立瓊軒

3       含情欲說宮中事

4       鸚鵡前頭不敢言




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain 七言絕句 with a caesura after the fourth character.  This English rendition is in heptameter (7 feet or beats) with a caesura after the fourth beat.  The original’s rhyme scheme is xAxA which is followed in the English rendition.


*Line 1:  The reduplication of (quiet) is rendered as “Quiet, so quiet"   after considering “Quietly quiet”.  花時 (flower; time or season) is rendered simply as “flowering” (after considering “blossoming” and “blooming”) with the present continuous tense to cover the idea that this is 花時 the flowering season.   (courtyard) is an enclosed open space outside the building(s) which can serve as “garden” and is rendered as such.  The half line 閉院門 (close; courtyard; doors) is, thus, rendered as “the … garden, its doors and gates all closed”.


*Line 2:  美人 (beautiful; human) is rendered as “Two beauties”, with “Two” added which is implicit in the context.  相並 (mutual; together) is literally translated as “side by side”, and   (stand) also literally, as “there stand”.  The word (fine jade) in 瓊軒 comes from (jade) but used as an adjective to mean beautiful, resplendent, exquisite, etc., to qualify the architectural structure called (a room/ chamber/ hall which is smaller in size and is not the main one , or a long corridor/ passage way).  Here, I have rendered 瓊軒 as “in a small, splendid side-hall”, after considering “in a splendid chamber, small”.  In the context of (i) two ladies (not many ladies), (ii) standing side by side, (iii) chatting or about to chat, and (iv) in the presence of a parrot (probably caged or chained), my interpretation of as “small room/ chamber/ hall” makes better sense than “long corridor/ passage way”.


*Line 3:  含情 (have; feelings) is literally translated as “Feelingly”.  欲說 (wish or want; speak) is rendered as “wishing to fully share”, with “share” to translate , and with “fully” added to heighten the feelings in their hearts.  宮中事 (palace; middle or inside; matters or affairs) is rendered as “their plaints of palace affairs”, with “palace affairs” to translate 宮中事 and with “their plaints” added, as complaints must be part, if not the whole, of what they wish to talk about on palace affairs  I had originally considered to deploy words like “gossips” and “rumours”, but have decided that these are all covered by “palace affairs”.


*Line 4:  不敢言 (not; dare; speak) is translated literally as “they dare not speak at all” to complete the “side-hall (line 2)” – “all (line 4)” rhyme.  鸚鵡前頭 (parrot; front; head) is rendered as “But before the mimicry, chattery parrot”, with “mimicry, chattery” added to lay bare why “they dare not speak at all” and to make the line a 7-beat line.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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